Once In A Lifetime

I was driving from Warren to Camden the other night when it washed over me: I feel like I’m living inside a David Byrne song: as if some large bird swooped down 10 months ago, lifted me on its back and deposited me squarely in this new life.  Or maybe just the opposite – not in a midlife crisis kind of way, but in a finally! all is well, but how did it happen so effortlessly kind of way?

Who ARE these people? How DID I get here? (and, strangest of all, why does it feel so much like coming home?)

   “You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
     And you may find yourself in another part of the world
     And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
     You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
     You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

Too often, men (never women, make your own conclusions here) ask me: “Soooo, how is it that an attractive woman such as yourself has never been married?” Statistics trumpeting the benefits of marriage to our esteemed male population aside, I’m often stymied as to what they’re really asking. Am I lesbian? A radical feminist? Unlovable? A runaway bride, perhaps? A maneater? Or maybe too choosy or demanding?

I always find this question partly annoying (why am I not asked if I’ve ever run a business, had children, or, even been in a long-term relationship?), and partly amusing (it gives me a chance to don my contrarian outfit, poking around to find out how much they’ve really given the venerable institution serious thought). I guess I’ve just heard one too many stories of someone walking down the aisle like it’s a plank.

Once, I learned a man was asking because he was on the way out of his 8 year marriage, claiming he’d just been riding the wave of … isn’t-this-what-people-do-when-they’re-in-love? … “We met, dated, moved in, and next thing you knew we had a wedding, a mortgage, and … there I was, wondering, My god! How did I get here?” I think he was desperately seeking permission to leave, and that it would all be okay in the end.

     “Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
     Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
     Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
     Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

Looking back on my childhood in the 70’s, there weren’t many successful models of happily ever after around me, so I never idolized some future wedding, frosted with buttercream and white lace. There was nothing I particularly wanted to be when I grew up, either.  Those pressures of today – prepping at preschool for the Ivy League – were absent. Instead, life then was much like it is now, like all good spiraling cycles do, coming back around and placing happiness in the form that we learned it first, at our blessed feet. I learned young to be content and interested and make my own excitements;  the independence that followed led me on grand adventures both far flung and romantically. For that, I am thankful my (divorced) parents left the big picture choices for me to paint, never imposing their successes and failures, but granting me the wherewithal to navigate by pointing out the moon and the stars and the sky above.

    “And you may ask yourself, “How do I work this?”
     And you may ask yourself, “Where is that large automobile?”
     And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful house”
     And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful wife”

When I was eighteen or nineteen, underage at a local bar, I chatted up a guy who’d graduated a few years before me. I had a crush on him in high school, and now that I was all grown up (in my mind), I wanted to impress him with my college sophistication. But right out of the gate, in answer to my eager and bouncy greeting, “How ARE you?” he replied, “Same old, same old.” Regrettably that was not the last time I heard those words. Disappointment crashed like a Ming vase.

     “Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was

Perhaps I only entered into relationships that had an expiration date, for fear I’d end up fighting and married, despondent and divorced, or like the sad sacks at the bars I tended. If I wasn’t heading into the mystic, nevertheless, I had love and lust and sweet guys and bad boys and romance both lengthy and fleeting, but I always knew deep down that I wasn’t a keeper.

     “Water dissolving and water removing
      There is water at the bottom of the ocean
      Under the water, carry the water
      Remove the water from the bottom of the ocean
      Water dissolving and water removing

Or was I? Whenever accused of being noncommittal, I resisted the notion. I’ve developed decades-long friendships, deep loyalties to my workplace, and a steadfast curiosity about the world that I indulge with vigor. Yes, I had my Houdini moments; I could bolt with the best of them. But over the years I explored the wheels and dials of my inner timepiece and discovered lasting commitment to truth, freedom and aliveness. Socrates, Jefferson, and Emerson left nourishment and I ate at their examined table. Once I put myself first, deliberately instead of haphazardly, peace reigned.

     “You may ask yourself, “What is that beautiful house?”
     You may ask yourself, “Where does that highway go to?”
     You may ask yourself, “Am I right, am I wrong?”
     You may say to yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

Recently, a charming and itinerant man asked me how I ended up here. Believing he might understand why I’d move somewhere not knowing anyone, I described the complete reliance on intuition and seizing of the right moment. Instead, he pressed me to ‘come clean’ that I was, in fact, running away from some uncloseted demon or such. Are we so accustomed to fight or flight behaviors that we are unable to recognize a step forward, a Constitutionally protected pursuit, an embrace of beauty and destiny? Is drowning that common?

      “Time isn’t holding up, time isn’t after us
       Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
       Same as it ever was, same as it ever was
       Same as it ever was, hey let’s all twist our thumbs
       Here comes the twister”

My oldest friend once said that given my propensity for the obscure destinations I head off to and unexpected life choices I make, that the only thing that would surprise her would be if I were to settle down with a husband and raise a gaggle of rugrats. At the time, we laughed at the absurdity, but wouldn’t that be the kicker, the ultimate rebellious move?

     “Letting the days go by
      Letting the days go by
      Once in a lifetime
      Let the water hold me down
      Letting the days go by”

What is true is that I’m at my best in the company of those I care about, especially when in a loving and mutual relationship. I thrive in the sunshine of security. It may just be that I have always believed in only doing it once. And, watch. That’s what will come pass.

The Most Radical Thing I Ever Did: A 21-Day Cleanse

I’ve taught English in Mao’s hometown, walked 800 km – solo – across a large European country, fallen in mad love, packed up all my toys and moved to snow country to write a book without knowing a soul.  But ask me to give up ice cream?  Baguettes?  Morning cuppa joe?  Bacon?  Juice glass of vino?  No freakin’ way!

So I approached it gradually.

I bought Kris Carr‘s book, Crazy Sexy Diet, in January.  I cleaned out the fridge in February.  I bought an Omega Juicer in March – the Jag of juicers!  Small steps.  It’s like weaning myself off the bottle, only it’s not just the milk I’m relinquishing.  It’s practically everything I put in my mouth.  I was shooting for Lent (tried giving up sweets then, but I wasn’t quite ready.  The sight of my first brownie signalled failure.)  But spring time is about renewal, rebirth, rebooting our systems, yes?  So, on March 30th, I launched full throttle into a master cleanse: no wheat, no dairy, no animals, no coffee, no alcohol, and my Achille’s heel – no sugar.  No sugar! How in the wholly Himalayas was I gonna do that?  Was I to feel like Sisyphus?  Atlas?  Or an orange jumpsuit-wearing prisoner relegated to a bowl of gruel?

I couldn’t have done it without Ms. Carr’s book.  She led me gently through each day with a prayer, an affirmation, medical guidance, upbeat encouragement and expectations of what toxins feel like as they’re expelled.  Thank goodness for her hand-holding and thank the snow gods for the meditative months that led up to this undertaking.  I spent the winter shedding and I was ready for the final heave ho!

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With all those restrictions, what did I eat and drink?  Water with cayenne & lemon upon rising.  Green & herbal teas throughout the day.  Oatmeal with soy milk, seeds and flaxmeal for breakfast (my usual, anyway).  2-3 glasses of green juice daily.  (Kale, romaine, fennel, carrots, beets, grapefruit, parsley, celery – whatever was on hand).  Lunch was usually a version of Mark Bittman’s celery & fennel salad, sometimes adding in turnips, beets, carrots, daikon, orange segments, pine nuts – anything I could slice on my Muji Mandoline.  Dinner was some version of a grain/bean/veg combination:  steamed or lightly sauteed broccoli, chard, mustard greens, collards – brown rice or quinoa –  white beans, green or red lentils, chickpeas.  I’d also snack on almonds, dried plums & cranberries, sesame crackers, apple slices with nut butter.  I consulted a couple of macrobiotic  and Japanese cookbooks on the shelf for more ideas, to keep it interesting.  Having lived in Japan, I find much of their cuisine keeps with this particular dietary lifestyle.  I miss eating there – no other country has satiated me more at the table.

kale chickpea salad
I wondered if I would feel deprived, but Kris presents this cleanse in such a positive light that it truly felt like I was gaining health and well-being.  The coffee was easy – I’m really more of a tea drinker – and the caffeine withdrawal headache only lasted a week or so, and was fairly mild.  I kept super-hydrated and slept really well – better on both counts than usual.  Maybe removing the caffeine/sugar roller-coaster was all I needed for deep and rejuvenating slumber.  I awoke an hour earlier than normal, around 5:30, and experienced an unusually high amount of energy each day.  I treated myself with a few lavender baths, worked out more at the gym (weight-lifting & laps, only – no cardio machines for me: boring.)  I chose physical activities that were fun, not a chore, so daily walks and hikes were mood boosters.

Noticeably, my portions grew smaller as I was satisfied with less.  I realize that I eat emotionally, hungry for more than just caloric nutrients.  But somehow I was more tuned into my body and could put my fork down appropriately.  Buying, preparing, and cooking my meals was faster and easier.  Strangely, I found more hours in my day, as I was more mindful in every aspect of diet and digestion.  Wow – I realized how we always wish for more space in our day, more time to carry out our to-do lists, but I had energy to burn!  Granted, I’m not employed outside the home and I have no children to raise, but really – was all this uumph always available, yet hidden underneath crusty loaves and triple creme sheep’s milk?  I feel like I could run a marathon, a business, and a small country now.  And that’s just on Tuesday.

As I watched my scale groan less, I felt buoyant and effervescent.  I started having profound shifts in perspective.  But not before THAT ONE DAY.  Oh, yes: that one day the Dragon of Craving rose up inside of me, in an all-consuming fire (is this what heroin addicts go through, seriously?). WINE! I MUST have a drink! Give me spaghetti Bolognese! A burger! – a juicy, rare burger, with cheese and bacon and… it didn’t matter that I wasn’t hungry; I was suffering an irrational rage.

15I can’t describe the power of this monster inside, but I held on to my commitment and found relief: opting for popcorn in  sacrificial appeasement.  Then I got as far away from the kitchen as possible. I climbed in the car (leaving my wallet at home to avoid a sudden bakery raid), drove to the beach, walked over the boulders and along the shoreline, breathing in lungfuls, and called a friend.  I was the queen of crank that afternoon, but friendship, water, and the sea air calmed, soothing that savage craving.  May none of you ever meet that beast.

That was my only rough moment.

Well, except for the Morning of Traumatic Sobbing.

Interspersed with the cleanse were 3 days of green juice fasting.  I’d do six days on, one day fasting, repeating over 3 weeks.  And what happened the day after my first fast was incredible.  It was an emotional release like no other.

Simultaneously, I’ve been asking/praying for clarity.  I want revelation.  I want to see where I’m going, or at least have an inclination about what’s next.  My recent intention, to write in a wintry place, completed once March arrived and I started feeling anxious.  Stay?  Go?  Love?  Work?  Home?  Travel?  So much monkey mind I couldn’t see through the fog, so I began asking for what I wanted, an arrow, a sign, a clue.  All while eating carrots & celery sticks.

Clarity: paradoxically hard to describeWell, you know what they say? Ask and you shall receive.  Careful!  It came in spades.  Every day brought striking clarity, bold visions, answers to long-buried questions.  One in particular, during meditation, a word appeared, so I moved to the desk and began writing about it. Before I even finished a sentence, I was sobbing.  Hard and clean, not hysterical, but fully.  Now, I don’t cry; I hold on tight.  Last time I really cried was four years ago, and now tears were flushing out an unresolved memory from childhood that, it was dawning on me, I hadn’t grieved back then.  It has held me back and I don’t want anything holding me back.  Remarkably, there was no anger (at myself or anyone else), just release and mourning.  And a big pile of tissues afterwards.

Compassion washed in, and I settled.  Putting pen on paper, I wrote twenty, yes – 20 – pages and excavated decades old detritus.  Phew.  When we let go, we really let go.  Goodbye past, hello bright future!

Those 21 days witnessed the passing of so much:  defenses that no longer serve me, fears that aren’t scary anymore, eating and drinking patterns that are harmful.  What I’ve learned is enormous.  I now know that bread is as numbing as wine.  That my sugar addiction has inflamed my shoulder for more than 25 years, and if I eliminate it as best I can, it no longer hurts.  THIS alone is a miracle, and it’s ridiculous it took me this long to find out.  Chronic pain clouds our sunshine, and pain’s absence liberates.  My skin and dairy don’t make a good partnership – in fact, I was mistaken for a twentysomething the other day (I’m 43) and countless people have remarked on my glowing and youthful skin.  That’s worth the price of admission, alone.

I supplemented my regimen with drybrushing, taking vitamins & aloe juice, lots of positive thinking, journaling, meditating, putting my Netflix habit on hold, getting a massage, getting an enema (more on that later), using essential oils, reading up on raw food & veganism, and exercising a bunch more than usual.  Swimming laps and sweating it out in the sauna were divine.

What I didn’t experience were hardcore toxins getting expelled (bad smells, pimples, aches, etc…) and I think that’s due to a generally healthy diet from the start. I don’t eat much meat, fast food, or processed boxes & bags that sell in the center aisles anyway.  I do like my Ciao Bella gelato and Newman-O’s, however…

This may sound silly, but the most dramatic thing I learned is that we are what we eat.  Yes, I’ve always known that.  But when we medicate ourselves with not just alcohol or even caffeine, but with pasta, butter, toast, cheese … we suffer for it.  Eating animals that have not lived or surrendered their lives in compassionate hands means we’re digesting violence, fear, unmindfulness.  Sugar is a replacement for a lack of sweetness, perhaps.  I don’t mean to be preachy or change anyone’s mind.  Live and let live.  I just want to share the extraordinary sensitivity that I’ve developed both physically and emotionally.

Do I miss the old flavors?  My taste buds have actually changed.  Drinking a glass of white wine is like sipping sugar-water.  Eating bread feels like I’m stuffing.  That drawer full of cheese?  I can feel it weighing me down already.  I had no idea that what once brought me pleasure actually was a buffer to living and what I want now is to live like I mean it.

Have I since incorporated some of those taboo ingredients?  Sure, but I’m keenly aware of their effect on body and mind, and make those choices consciously.  Food tastes better.  Almonds are delicious!  That farro and grilled spring veg plate at Eataly?  Delectable!  A small piece of high quality 78% chocolate?  Hits the spot!

Radical?  Yes.  And I’m so proud of myself for accomplishing it.  I didn’t know I had it in me.  Will it last?  I’ll let you know…and in the meantime, I would love to hear if you’ve ever done one or thought about it, if you have any questions or want to share with me your experience.  It was a journey of eye-opening magnitude for me!

Victory Edition 1919 War Gardening and Home Storage of Vegetables

The Words Of The Prophets Are Written On The Subway Walls

Back in October, a few weeks after I left the cacophony of NYC to the more ambitiously inclined, Forbes Magazine ranked Maine dead last in its yearly Best States For Business survey.  Where’d they get that notion?  Are there less corporate tax breaks here, or is it the geographical remove, tucked way up in the top corner of the country?  There’s a lot of coastline, though;  shouldn’t that be good for commerce?  Or maybe it’s the sparse population;  heck, more people live below 110th St in Manhattan than in our entire state, it’s just that a three-piece here means Carhartts, flannel and a tool belt. A real DIY kinda place.  We all need income, so we’re not adverse to making a living, and there’s that New England work ethic, so sloth and idleness are not to blame.  Last, really?  Hmmm.

Maybe with a slogan like Vacationland, we sell ourselves as a place to play, not work, and stats in a survey tell whatever story you want them to. Those suits at the money magazines can spin a yarn just as well as any Down East denizen, apparently.  There’s certainly no shortage of busyness here, especially if you listen to an oldtimer when he notes, “Yah know spring’s here when folks start either diggin’ in their gahden or sandin’ down their schooner.”  If you’ve done either, you’ve no doubt the industry of the task.  The curious thing is that Mainers tell themselves a story:  that finding work is hard, that jobs aren’t easy to come by, that economic times are always tough here.  Maybe Forbes didn’t rely on statistics for their survey.  Perhaps it was a write-in campaign.

Now six months later, the Institute for Economics and Peace perches the Pine Tree State in peak position as the #1 Most Peaceful in the US.  ‘The Way Life Should Be,’ the state tagline, is cliche for a reason.  Peace.  Stillness.  Ah, yes.  Shhh.. listen.

**ribbet ** ribbet ** ribbet **

Does this mean that economic enterprise and peacefulness are at odds?  Mutually exclusive?

I’ve had a long, snowy winter to contemplate this.  My ear’s better attuned now to groundswell and scuttle.  So much gets drowned out in our technolife, but November to April in the Northeast is like being on silent retreat – aside from the chainsaws, listening to Labor Mural dramas on WERU, and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman report on waves of change in the Middle East and waves of destruction in Japan.  It’s mostly tranquil here – a grand environment to ponder and listen.  And listen I do.

Seems the more we pare down, the richer life gets.  By reducing noise and distraction, one of my primary goals for leaving the city – (Who can write there anyway?  Well, except for Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, Colson Whitehead and, oh – never mind.  Focus, Kellie, focus.), I’ve gained a keen ear.  By tuning into ever-sensitized wavelengths, I’ve gained endless wisdom, all locked in a virtual Maine zip file.  I hear the messages of prophets everywhere:  in the peeping frogs in vernal pools near Lucia’s Beach,  in the profundities of seemingly mundane chats with new friends, in the warning calls of hawks, as they spy prey below, running on battened-down earth.  I hear it in my own words, even, when they’re reflected back to me;  funny, I often miss them the first time out.

But for all the halcyon moments, impatient desires rustle and poke at my new peace.  I WANT to be busy.  Isn’t activity essential this season?  My mind is fertile with ideas and wanderlust.  I want to strap on stilts, take this expanding me out for a stroll with purpose – I want my steps to cover ten times as much ground as they did before.  I want to move like a giant, calling up the wind like The Alchemist, and sweep away everything not rooted down.  The earth is shifting so wide and deep, down to its mantle, and loosening what’s on the surface.  The blasting sandstorm, the blizzard, the waves are all churning and eroding.  I, too, am shedding and recalibrating.

Indeed, Paul Simon knew.  The prophets are everywhere.  Their words ARE on the subway walls, and tenement halls, and in your mouth, and in mine.  Discerning what to believe, Ah! That’s the key!  Do I listen to Forbes, pack up my bags and head back to a Brooklyn job?  Or do I believe peace lives here, on this ground?  Or maybe, just maybe, both are mobile and malleable?

I wonder – these stories that Maine, and we, tell, are they real – are they true, or are they all talk & no listening?

Weebles Wobble, But I Don’t Fall Down

For a significant time in my life, I tended bar and waited tables and eventually reached a level of mastery that only comes after years in the profession.  In order to get and stay employed at upper tier establishments, you must meet demanding criteria with excellence, and make it look second nature.  Once, a fellow apron-in-the-trenches, Raven, observed that while it may seem to someone peering in from outside or to a server-in-training all graceful and effortless, it’s actually harder than it appears, and can be interpreted as a more accessible job than it really is.  Cultivating an efficient, hospitable presence in the midst of crying babies, hungry diners, first dates, and VIP business deals calls for a complex recipe.  Oenophilic knowledge, reflexive prioritization, vast patience, and a fluid physicality with an intimately choreographed and fast-paced dance among tables, swinging kitchen doors and moving human targets are all ingredients that create an illusion of a seamless, well-edited film.  She was right, we made it look easy, and we earned our Oscar every single night.

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Despite proficiency and agility, it’s not always wine and roses.  Steve, another veteran colleague, adds one crucial perspective that can make the difference between a shift feeling like an Amazonian jungle drive with no struts or shocks, and cruising the Autobahn in a cushy, air-conditioned Beemer. In industry jargon, being ‘in the weeds’ means you’re on a sinking ship, you NEED HELP NOW, all hell’s breaking loose, and the wreckage is piling up.  Sometimes no amount of technical ability can save you from this kind of disaster.  With his signature wry wit, he offers this wise salve, “Kellie, you can’t be in the weeds, if you just. don’t. care.”

Contemplate that for a moment.

When pressure mounts – a raucous table tries to flag you down for their third bottle of wine, another wants to send back undercooked steak that they ordered rare, the chef is yelling for you to pick up hot plates, crema on an espresso is fading at the counter and your barista won’t be too pleased to make it over, and the host just seated an ornery family of eight in your station – it’s hard to all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  The last thing that will help is grasping for perfection and squeeeeezing tight.  Instead, give up.  Stop caring about the mess, the stress, doing your best.  Embrace chaos and move through the madness.  Keep humor in your pocket; toss the-sky-is-falling panic.  Once you stop caring that you’re in the weeds, sanity and order swiftly return.

This is how I finally came to write.  For too long, I harbored lofty views of what writing should be – gazed up on vaunted writers as gods – Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, Twain – as anyone with literary ambitions would.  I intensely pulsed with visions of grand words and clever turns of phrase like the masters.  I toted high ideals, yet felt low and too intimidated to put pen to paper for fear that I could nary craft as expert a sentence as theirs.  Nothing I wrote would be good enough, much less perfect, so why even try?  In essence, my wish to be a great writer actually prevented me from ever seriously commiting.  What use is that?  So I alternated between fits of private prose and artistic abstinence, but always ended up disappointed in myself.  Journals got filled, shelved, forgotten.  Yes, Mr. Famous Author, follow me right this way to your corner table.

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Then I remembered how I did what I did for a living, and the philosophies of Raven and Steve.  There was the answer, the road to freedom. I acknowledged that it would take years to achieve mastery, if ever, and I stopped caring about being top-notch.  I didn’t need to be a great writer.  I didn’t even need to be a good writer.  I laid down striving for perfection.  Starving for expression, all I had to do was write.

At once, my first gig waiting tables, back when I was far from competent, came rushing into memory.  One night early on I dropped an entire tray of frozen pina coladas and other frou-frou drinks all over a poor little girl who had the misfortune of sitting beneath me.  Out of mortifying embarrassment I laughed uncontrollably, while she burst into frightened tears.  It was all so horrible, but I cleaned up the mess, got on with the shift, and went back to work the next night and then the night after that.  I persevered, got less clumsy, and built up skills.

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We’re rarely good straight out of the gate;  so when I ask a friend, a best-selling author, for beginning writerly advice he offers up the same, wise morsel – make as many mistakes as I can.  So I do, continually, and it’s OK because now I’ve learned not to care about looking foolish or amateur.  All I want to do is write and have fun doing it.

This week, I sit cross-legged in yoga class, prayerful hands in front of my heart, post-OM, pre-asanas and the instructor, about to lead the group in a series of balancing poses, suggests we set an intention for our evening’s practice.  Before I can think up one, she shares hers – to wobble.  She actually intends to sway, to teeter.

Let go, whispers the universe!

Kapow!  I finally get it… Validity exists in shakiness as much as in stability.  When we’re trying to ground, find steadiness on one foot, arms akimbo, torso bent forward, and we falter – indeed, that is exactly when to accept imbalance – it’s integral to the pose, and not as I’ve long thought, failing.  I’ll never be in the weeds again.

As soon as I embrace the wobble, the imperfection, I stop falling down, and finally begin.

Open (Screen) Door Policy

I stand in the doorway this bright, blue sky morning, holding open the screen door so that nothing comes between me and the young man outside with telltale pamphlets tucked under his right arm. Smiling awkwardly with his silver-braced teeth and acne, he greets me with practiced lines and hints of nervous eagerness.

“Hello!” he chirps.  “How are you?”

“Hi,” I reply, “I’m fine.  How’re you?”

“I am well, thank you.  I have some magazines here for you to read, if you’d like…” he trails off as I politely cut him short.  I am familiar enough with Watchtower News and Awake! to know I am not interested in prolonging his discomfort and our conversation.  I send him on his way back down the icy driveway to the dark sedan that awaits, older couple in the front seat – his parents perhaps, or Witness elders.  They back out and drive to the next house.

Instead of feeling relief, I hesitate and pause to wonder:  was I too hasty?  Why not invite him in and hear what he has to say.  Rather than supposing a one-way conversation, I could have offered the benefit of doubt, made my assumption charitable.  Why not entertain the possibility of dialogue, and if it didn’t materialize, then I could say goodbye knowing I stood open, and listened.

It is not unusual to have strangers rap on the door here, and that’s heartening – real world places still exist for strangers to ask for invitation and to receive it.  How easy it is to keep the door closed, to ignore a request for connection as our inboxes are overflowing and our bills are mounting – we’ve got pressures to parse and stress to manage.  But what if something meaningful was behind that knock?  What if relief lies just outside our door?

When I’ve turned that doorknob, kind people, always, are on the other side, trying to make their way in the world, just like I am:  a woman looking for a friend’s house, someone wanting to buy the truck in the driveway, or a man wanting to lease the back fields for farming.  We rely on each other to show us the way when we’re lost, to offer financial opportunity when we are in need, or to join in a new, sustaining venture.  The can-do attitude is alive and active here, and in a climate of economic scarcity and struggle, old-fashioned grassroots door-to-door isn’t just a way of making a living or promoting a cause, but of connecting to the people around us – it can pick us up and remind us that we are all in the same boat, if we would just stop putting different names on them.  In true exchange at my dining room table, I might find income, friendship, community, or just simple human contact with someone I wouldn’t meet otherwise in our tight-knit circles.  The world would get simultaneously larger and smaller.

I remember sitting at my back porch table years ago and my roommate, T, was writing out a mission statement.  I had never heard of such a thing before, so she detailed its whys and hows to me, and of course I wanted one, too.  At my last job, the mission statement was an important tool, a measure of the space between who we said we were and how we were actually operating.  Whenever I faced conflict or dilemma, I asked what stance or action would best serve that mission statement.  Clarity almost always swept in on those wings.  Now that I’m creating a new paradigm for my life, one where everything underscores my integrity, truth, and desires – no more clocking-in-clocking-out jobs, no more being who you want me to be, no more swallowing bitter pills of the cults of consumerism, conformity or competition – I must distill my belief system down to one guiding star.  Easy?  Try drawing a straight line without a ruler.  Then pull out that microscope and look even closer…

Once I write it, I wonder, will I be drawn to knock on doors to spread the word?  Probably not, but I empathize with missionary zeal – when you’re full of excitement and clarity don’t you want others to share in your happiness and peace?   Perhaps, but I believe it’s better to lead by example, lead by invitation, lead with liveliness and verve, while trusting each other to craft our own routes, or roots, even.

There are many forms of missionaries – diplomatic and religious ones initially come to mind, but don’t overlook the less obvious embodiments that are spreading their worldview, and want us on board their bus: for-profit corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), patriotic nationalists, New Age spiritualists, political ideologues, climate change environmentalists, organic farmers, 2012 Mayan Chicken Littles.  It’s not that wanting to share your point of view is good or bad, but we tend to duck when the dogma flies.  The end is nigh!  Buy now, save later!  You’re with us or against us!  Save the children!

It is a full spectrum, with chewy morsels on which to ruminate the entire length.  I have found usefulness in all platforms.  I’ve sought out and worked for a corporation that provided me with health benefits, a stable paycheck and some of the best colleagues I’ll ever know.  I’ve participated proudly as an American citizen, and a global one, too.  I’ve contributed to and benefited from both governmental programs and NGOs.  I’ve embraced capitalism and railed against its bottom-line mentality.  I’ve gleaned wisdom from traditional holy books, and rejected chapters that didn’t resonate.  The world is dynamic, complex and interwoven – and I find myself choosing more and more the kinds of preachers I want – based not on ideology, but on intention and how I feel when I hear their message. As much can be gleaned from a blade of grass as in the mire of our trillion-dollar deficit.  It is not enough to adhere to the saints or the sinners, to the left or the right anymore – I want to run my fingers along the spine of life and feel each bump and valley, the skin that covers it, and the pulse that beats beneath us all.

So I sit and craft words of meaning and truth until I come up with these:

My mission is to listen and obey my intuition, and when I falter, to correct myself with forgiveness and compassion, and treat others with the same. I will practice non-judgment and equanimity.  I will unceasingly look to see the positive and I will remember to have as much fun along the way as I can.

It’s a work in progress and in the meantime, I’ll maintain that open door policy.  Feel free to knock anytime, come in, and tell me your story.  I promise to listen this time.

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